Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Light Festival


One year ago, a company called Vegalume came to Reykjavik with their light costumes for the light parade. I was asked by the company to photograph the parade. They were quite happy with the results, and so when their next large gig came up, they asked me to be the photographer. In Germany. This is probably my largest professional gig yet, where they covered my flights to and from Germany, as well as my photographers fee. This is an example where your reputation is extremely valuable. There are a ton of photographers in Germany already, who actually speak German (unlike me) and most likely at least a few who can do low light photography. However they did not know any off the bat, so a time-tested photographer they have worked with before, and that they know can deliver the results they want, is worth the extra expense of flights. This was a very expensive and one-time event, in front of the Dom cathedral in Cologne (the largest gothic church in northern Europe), and a repeat was not going to happen. They had to be sure the shots came out right the first time.


The event itself was too quick and large to use my flash equipment, so this is all available light. The costumes themselves provided most of the light, but there are street lights and lamp posts littered around the square. This required my camera's fullest light gathering abilities. I was using the 35mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 1600, and 1/60 of a second (to be sure to avoid hand shake, and to freeze the movements of the actors as much as possible). The noise levels are acceptable, and the illumination is sufficient. Post processing involved boosting the light areas, and then increasing the deep shadows, as noise is always most evident in the dark areas. By lowering the deep shadows, the worst noise gets damped down into black. On my favorite images ( including the top image) I make a new layer, use noise ninja to do aggressive noise removal, then use a mask to reveal it only where the noise is offensive visually. This results in clean areas of low detail, but leaves detail in the more busy areas.


Toward the end, one of the actresses was given these flaming wings, and she performed alone. The fire provided a lot of extra brightness, but she was moving much faster than the other dancers, so instead of decreasing ISO or aperture, I decreased the shutter speed, to be sure I froze her actions.

With any less light gathering capability to my gear, I would not have been able to achieve this level of illumination. With an f/2.8 lens, I would have been boosting my ISO 1600 shots to ISO 4500 or so to get a similar illumination level, which would have far more noise and less color accuracy and less dynamic range. (color accuracy and dynamic range decrease as ISO increases, as well as the obvious sharpness and detail of the image). Ideally I would have used the 24mm 1.4 lens, to get more of the cathedral in the background showing, but the rental agencies in Germany were already closed when I arrived the day of the shoot, and I do not own that lens. It's on my lust-list however.

The remainder of the set.

light_festival2-8 light_festival2-6

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Belly Dancers part 3


Settings: Ambient was 3 stops below neutral grey. One flash into a 60cm umbrella above and to the right, at 2 stops above ambient.

One of the dancers from the original shoot asked me to come out to Akranes (a smaller city about an hour north of Reykjavik) and photograph her dance team, as well as some individuals of herself. I used save, even lighting for the group shots, but once I could focus just on her, I could play with more contrasty lighting. I used only my 60cm umbrella, as she had great skin that would work well with it.


Settings: Ambient was 3 stops below neutral grey. One flash into a 60cm umbrella above and to the right, at 2 stops above ambient. There is also a bare flash on the ground behind her, pointed straight up, at 3 stops above ambient. You can see the rim slightly on the bottom of her forearms.

It was great to have someone so eager to perform in front of the camera, and the costume made it even better. Once I had my lighting ratio setup, I was able to ask for all types of poses, and as long as I stayed in the same general angle to the flash, I was getting good lighting with contrasty shadows. On this fullbody shot, I had placed a bare flash on the ground behind her aiming up. I got a little bit of rim light separation, but I should have zoomed it wider so it hit more of her veil to really light it up.


Settings: Ambient was exposed at neutral grey.

After getting some good lit photos. I wanted to try some warm candle lit photos. I asked her to lay down on a pillow, and I moved several candles in close to get as much light as possible. I cranked my camera to maximum light gathering mode (ISO 1600, f/1.8, and 1/80) The shutter speed was so low that I had to brace my elbows on the ground to avoid camera shake on the 85mm lens. Normally I try to use 1/160 of a second with this lens. Even with this much sensitivity, I had to boost the brightness about .6 in lightroom, making this about ISO 2500) The soft candlight really added a nice mood. However her makeup had an odd reaction to the candle light and slightly discolored her face to a green color. I made a quick brush adjustment with a color overlay of a light magenta, which popped it back to the color of the rest of her skin, and much more natural.

The rest of the set.